Let’s Talk About Lucroy | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

“I’m never happy with myself. If I’m hitting well, I want to hit better. It’s my personality not to give up. I’ve always worked hard and pushed myself. Nothing is good enough.”

A 16-year-old Jonathan Lucroy said the above after being named the Orlando Sentinel athlete of the week for Lake and Sumter counties in late February 2003. The week that wasn’t “good enough,” in his words, included a game where Lucroy went 2-4 with a double, home run, and six RBIs. If speaking in baseball platitudes was a skill, Lucroy learned it in high school. Luckily for Lucroy, his bat has been ever better.

On Sunday, Jonathan Lucroy went 3-5 with two doubles and a triple.  He finished the Brewers’ ten-game road trip with 17 hits in 40 ABs for a ridiculous .425 AVG/ 1.152 OPS. On the trip, eight of those hits were doubles to bring his season total to 20. That tied him with Chase Utley for second in the league behind only the 21 doubles hit by Paul Goldschmidt.

Lucroy’s doubles are going to every part of the field too. Here’s the hit chart for his 18 double-baggers prior to Sunday’s game –

With just over 30% of the season in the books, Lucroy is on pace to break Lyle Overbay’s franchise record of 53 doubles in a season.

Yet, the doubles record might just be the feather in Lucroy’s cap this season. Prior to Sunday’s 3-5 performance, Lucroy has amassed a 1.9 fWAR. Barring injury, or an unfortunate accident, Lucroy is in the midst of what could be the best season by a Brewers catcher, ever. According to Fangraphs’ WAR calculations, here are the top five seasons by a Brewers catcher in franchise history.

Rank Player Year fWAR
1 Ted Simmons 1983 3.7
2 Darrell Porter 1973 3.6
3 Darrell Porter 1975 3.6
4 Jonathan Lucroy 2012 3.6
5 Jonathan Lucroy 2013 3.6

Lucroy is already over halfway to the best fWAR by a Brewers catcher with two-thirds of the 2014 season still to be played. While he can’t be expected to keep hitting at a .425 AVG/1.152 OPS clip, his peripherals prove that this isn’t a fluke. Lucroy has continued to “work hard and push himself” to improve as a hitter.

First, his plate discipline keeps going in the right direction. Since joining the senior circuit, here’s how Lucroy’s eye at the plate has fared, compared to the league average –

Year PA Luc’s BB% lg BB% Luc’s K% lg K%
2010 297 6.1% 8.5% 14.8% 18.5%
2011 468 6.2% 8.1% 21.2% 18.6%
2012 346 6.4% 8.0% 12.7% 19.8%
2013 580 7.9% 7.9% 11.9% 19.9%
2014 190 10.5% 8.2% 11.1% 20.3%

While the rest of the league is striking out more often, Lucroy has lowered is K% to almost half the league average. Meanwhile, his BB% has jumped 2.6% since just last year. Need more proof that Lucroy has been seeing the ball well this year? Lucroy had seen a total of 739 pitches this season. He’s only swung and missed at 41 of them.

Now, Lucroy’s current .361 BABIP is well above his career norm of .312 BABIP, which hints at a possible correction to come. However, that number may not drop as much as expected. Lucroy has hit more ground balls, and fewer fly balls, this year than ever before.

Year GB/FB LD% GB% FB% HR/FB%
2010 1.16 18.8% 43.6% 37.6% 4.5%
2011 1.23 24.2% 41.8% 33.9% 10.7%
2012 1.11 21.1% 41.5% 37.5% 11.7%
2013 1.03 22.8% 39.1% 38.0% 10.3%
2014 1.42 22.1% 45.6% 32.2% 4.2%

So far this season, the league’s batting average on ground balls is .239 versus a .185 average on fly balls. If Lucroy continues to put the ball on the ground consistently, his overall AVG and BABIP will be buoyed, in part, because of that 50-point difference.

Notably, Lucroy’s HR/FB% is down to 4.2%, which is well under his career norm. Hopefully, playing in warmer weather and at Miller Park will bring that ratio back up. Of course, fewer overall fly balls from Lucroy probably means fewer home runs too. The shortage of long balls mean Lucroy’s ISO is lower than usual. In some cases, this might be a cause for concern but this isn’t one of them. Though fewer balls have cleared the fence for Lucroy, his extra base hit percentage is at a career high. In addition, his fly ball distance (average distance of fly balls, line drives, and pop ups) is also currently at a career high.

Year ISO XBH% FB-DST
2010 .076 4.4% 258
2011 .126 6.2% 265
2012 .193 9.5% 273
2013 .175 8.5% 273
2014 .141 10.5% 276

Simply, the home runs will come for Lucroy. He might not tally as many as last year, because he’s hitting so many ground balls, but it doesn’t mean he’s losing power.

Last season, Disciples of Uecker Godfather J.P. Breen wrote that Lucroy had become a near-elite catcher. Those who follow him on Twitter, which you all should, might have seen this earlier in the season –

With Lucroy signed with the Crew through the 2017 season, he seems destined to surpass B.J. Surhoff in total fWAR for a catcher in franchise history. Here’s the current franchise ranks –

Rank Player Games fWAR
1 B.J. Surhoff 1102 14.2
2 Jonathan Lucroy 499 11.2
3 Dave Nilsson 837 10.0
4 Darrell Porter 537 9.8
5 Charlie Moore 1283 9.1

Enjoy it now, Brewers fans. The presumptive best catcher in Brewers’ history is in the midst of his best season. I’m sure if Lucroy is asked about it that he’d resort to another baseball platitude of just wanting to do whatever he can to help the team win. While he focuses on helping the Brewers reach the post-season, we can still call to attention just how special of a season Lucroy is having.

 

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